Since the start of the uprising against ex-president Hosni Mubarak on January 25, 2011, every other Friday is given a specific label in Egypt. Friday November 18, 2011, was labelled as “the Single Demand Friday”, the single demand being the swift transfer of power from the Supreme Council for Armed Forces (SCAF) to a civilian-elected government. It was called for and dominated by the Islamists and as a result Islamist recitations and hymns filled the square. This led some commentators in Egypt to sarcastically label it as “Kandahar Friday”.
Although it was labelled as the Single Demand Friday, the Muslim Brotherhood, together with the Salfists, Gama’a and other Islamist groups, rallied their supporters to show up in their millions at Tahrir Square to demand two things: swift transfer of power and the renunciation of the draft supra-constitutional principles.
The supra-constitutional principles are intended to dictate the supreme law of the land. As such, they must be incorporated, or at least not contravened, in any future constitution. The notion of supra-constitutional principles was proposed mainly to protect the Egyptian way of life and to prevent any party with a majority in the next parliament unilaterally to draft the future constitution.
Most political parties oppose Article 9 of the Supra-Constitutional Principles because it would give SCAF exclusive oversight over its budget and legitimise it as the “guardian of the constitution”. In addition, the Islamists ferociously opposed the wording of Article 1, which stipulates that Egypt is a civil/secular state (madaniah). For the Islamists, the term “madaniah” has negative connotations, since in their view Islam is a “religion and state”.
Strangely enough, however, it was the Muslim Brotherhood that first advocated the supra-constitutional principles as early as March 16, 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood’s recent change of mind stems mainly from its belief that it will hold a majority in the next parliament and accordingly it desires to not be restricted by any supra-constitutional principles when drafting the new constitution.
Although Single Demand Friday passed peacefully and the Islamists did not stay beyond sunset, some non-Islamist activists decided to stage an open-ended sit-in until SCAF announced a specific date for the transfer of power to the new parliament and president. Unexpectedly, on the morning of Saturday 19, the military police charged on those camping out in Tahrir Square and dispersed them by force. This resulted in bloody confrontation, numerous casualties and ignited rage all over the country which resulted in mass protests in a number of governorates. Instead of learning from its mistakes, the Central Security Forces, yet again, used unreasonable force in its clashes with those protestors, sparking further turmoil. According to a recent count, the death toll has reached 40 and over 2,000 protestors have been injured. At the time of going to press, the protestors were still in Tahrir and elsewhere in the country chanting “down with the SCAF” and “down with Field Marshal Tantawi.” They still demand a swift transfer of power to a competent civilian government.
Whatever the outcome of the protest in Tahrir and elsewhere, SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood have been damaged irreversibly. Although SCAF failed to meet a single demand of the revolution, it remained in power for ten months by using its propaganda machine to convince the public that it was the only entity capable of re-establishing law and order in Egypt. However, by committing the Maspero massacre against the Copts on October 9, 2011, and by giving the green light to the Central Security Forces to use excessive force during the protests which were staged from November 19-24, 2011, SCAF lost all credibility as the “guardian of the revolution”.
Furthermore, by referring 12,000 civilians to military tribunals in ten months, which is more than the total number of civilians who faced military trials during Mubarak’s thirty-year rule, most activists became convinced that SCAF is undermining the transition to democracy. It could be argued, however, that SCAF’s biggest mistake was entering into an unholy alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood. For thirty years, Mubarak used a simple equation to gain legitimacy: “Me and the military, or the Islamists; no third option.” Immediately after the fall of Mubarak, SCAF tried to merge, and some argue to accentuate, the two elements of Mubarak’s equation. Although Think Africa Press was the first to raise the issue of a possible deal between SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood, at present a consensus seems to be emerging among commentators in Egypt that the deal which favoured the Muslim Brotherhood at the expense of all other political factions damaged SCAF and left it out of touch with the developments in the Egyptian street.
Similarly, the recent events seem to have damaged the Muslim Brotherhood as well. For the last ten months, the Muslim Brotherhood, in a megalomaniac manner, presented itself as the sole power capable of determining the future sequence of events in the street. The recent events in Tahrir challenged the self-awareness of the Muslim Brotherhood: whilst it remained absent from the mass protests in Tahrir and elsewhere from Saturday, November 19, the protestors managed to pull over a million people in Tahrir Square alone on Friday, November 25.
By staying away from the protests against SCAF, the Muslim Brotherhood clearly sided with the military junta. This affirmed the view of some that the Muslim Brotherhood is a power-hungry and opportunist organisation that rates its own self-interest higher than the blood of the victims of the revolution. The anger of the protestors with the Muslim Brotherhood was reflected when Mohamed Beltagy, member of the Executive Office of the Freedom and Justice Party, was ejected from Tahrir square.
Undoubtedly, the hardcore members of the Muslim Brotherhood will still vote for the political branch of the organisation, the Freedom and Justice Party. However, the vast majority of Egypt’s population belongs to the “couch party”, the silent bloc who follow events but never takes part in political demonstrations or protests. It is highly likely that the outcome of elections, whether held tomorrow or in the future, will be determined by the couch party. The Muslim Brotherhood’s decision to stay away from the protests may have alienated it from this sector of the population and as a result cost it millions of votes. It could be argued that in selfishly protecting its own interests, the Muslim Brotherhood may have shot itself in the foot.
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